On May 4, the Arroyo Bahía Conservation Area in the Bolivian Amazon was declared, protecting nearly 10,000 acres of forests and critical water sources for the surrounding local populations. It is the municipality of Cobija’s first protected area. Arroyo Bahía provides valuable ecosystem services in the form of freshwater to 80,000 local people in Bolivia, Peru and Brazil due to the city’s location in the department of Pando, which shares a western border with Peru and a border with Brazil to the north and east. Thus, protecting ecosystems that traverse multiple countries supports the livelihoods of thousands of people.
The declaration of this protected area is timely as the upper and middle sections of the Arroyo Bahía basin have been experiencing significant deforestation over the past five years, according to research carried out by Josefina Marín, who serves as the environmental economist of Fundación Natura Bolivia. One of the main reasons for the loss of forest cover has been the increased demand of clearing areas for raising livestock, which causes erosion and soil compaction. This affects the regeneration of forest species and contributes to the sedimentation and clogging of streams. Consequently, the forest coverage of the banks of the tributary rivers to the stream have been drastically reduced from 1985 to 2008. This, along with the pollution from the dumping of waste, has had terrible consequences for water quality and causes drinkability problems. The Brazil nut harvest has also been reduced lately due to the decrease in the production of the trees and the drop in prices.
Thus, the establishment of the Arroyo Bahía Conservation Area will protect this basin from contamination and deforestation. It will also support the local peoples’ livelihoods, and mitigate floods and fires. Additionally, the basin is home to great diversity in spite of continuously encroaching human activity. 351 plant species have been identified in two sampling sites, along with 35 amphibian species, 13 reptiles, 185 bird species, 32 mammals, and 30 fish species.
Thank you to support from the Andes Amazon Fund which helped make the declaration of this area possible.
Last year we helped the local government of Ixiamas, Bolivia establish the Municipal Conservation Area of Bajo Madidi, an area spanning 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares). Three times the size of the Grand Canyon, this conservation area is the largest in Bolivia and one of the largest in the world. It hosts a variety of ecological landscapes including wetlands, lowland rainforests, and savannas.
Throughout the long and complex creation process, we provided the technical expertise and assistance to both the government and local communities that was needed to officially declare the area. We also helped them gather and understand key environmental data on the conservation needs of this landscape to develop the plan to protect it for the long-term. This conservation plan now guides the sustainable use and management of natural resources in Bajo Madidi.
The establishment of this area was a massive undertaking with contributions by local peoples and support from over 800 stakeholders. Successes like these are the foundation of our conservation efforts that have helped protect over 8.3 million acres of forests to date.
This story is part of a series commemorating our 20th anniversary protecting the Amazon. We’re celebrating this milestone with a look back at our 20 biggest conservation wins over the past 20 years. You can help create more protected areas like Bajo Madidi around the Amazon.
For the past year, we had been working on legal and technical requirements needed to create the 78,000-acre Porvenir Protected Area in the Pando region of Bolivia, and on creating the necessary framework to support its long-term management and protection. This work paid off; even with the challenges of the pandemic, the municipal government has officially declared Porvenir a protected area in early October. Additionally, another protected area nearby, Puerto Rico, is in the final stages of being declared and we expect the process to be completed by the end of the year. Together, these two new conservation areas will protect almost 400,000 acres of forests – a major win for the Bolivian Amazon!
In both of these areas, the process for their creation and management requires an important baseline of information on the biodiversity that lives there and on the ecosystem services that they provide (that is, a quantification of the many benefits to humans get from these forest ecosystems). This way, the management of the natural resources of the area will be sustainable and will keep these centuries-old forests healthy and productive. We provided the communities and the local government with this key ecological information, including physical ecosystem information, inventories of flora and fauna, climate analysis, and the identification of threatened species and of species with the potential for sustainable use that could raise families’ income.
Given the heavy amount of fieldwork needed to create a conservation area, it has been a challenge working within a global pandemic and quarantine restrictions in Bolivia, as it has kept our experts from making the necessary field expeditions to carry out this work. However, we adapted our scientific methodology to continue to move forward given these extraordinary conditions. We developed a survey of all of the studies, literature, and data collections made over the past years and we used geomatic tools (that is, geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing using satellites, and high-tech drones) to gather data on the groups of flora and fauna in both areas. With this adaptation, we were able to gather sufficient information to support the government in the formal declaration process for Porvenir to become a protected area, and in moving forward to do the same for the Puerto Rico area.
Special thanks to Andes Amazon Fund (AAF), the Sheldon and Audrey Katz Foundation, and all individuals and organizations whose generous support made this project possible.